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Syria Today: The Fighting Near the Golan Heights

After the fall of Qusayr to regime forces on Wednesday, the political and military fronts were quieter yesterday.

There was one significant flutter with wider implications, however: fighting along Syria's southern border --- notably with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

In the morning, insurgents attacked and briefly held the Quneitra crossing before regime forces reclaimed it.

Then, in an incident which may or may not have been connected with the Quneitra skirmish, firing in the demilitarised area between Syria and Israel injured two United Nations peacekeepers.

The Austrian Government, which contributes 380 of the 900 peacekeepers, subsequently announced that it is withdrawing its troops.

Israel showed interest in the developments, with its military bringing out the first news of the Quneitra fighting, but refrained from intervention. Its Foreign Ministry said in a written statement saying it regretted Austria's decision and hoped this would not bring further escalation of violence in the region.

Protest Message of the Day

From Kafranbel in Idlib Province:

Syrian Council Statement

The opposition Syrian Coalition has released a statement criticising Russia’s “contradictory statements...that cast doubt on the Syrian Coalition's position toward the Geneva II Conference.”

The statement also reiterates the Syrian Coalition’s demand that Assad must step down as a part of preconditions for talks, in order to facilitate “the fundamental aim of the Geneva agreement, which is to create a democratic transition and put an end to Assad’s dictatorship.”

High-Tech Methods to Prevent Arms Going to Wrong People?

The French government is apparently looking into a variety of high-tech methods that would prevent arms provided by the West to Syrian rebels from being used by the ‘wrong’ groups.

Experts and officials say that nothing would be 100 per cent fail-safe, but techniques such as tracking the movement of anti-aircraft missiles or being able to disable them from a distance are being investigated.

Western countries, such as France, Britain and the United States, fear that if they provide arms to the rebels in a bid to assist them in overthrowing the Assad regime, these arms might end up in the hands of groups who hold anti-Western views. Both France and Britain have been pushing for a stronger response to the crisis, recently ending the EU arms embargo and accusing Syrian government forces of using chemical weapons.

Lebanon: Future Bloc, March 14 Slam Hezbollah Over Qusayr

Al-Mustaqbal (Future) Bloc MP Khaled al-Daher slammed Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah on Friday for his group's involvement in fighting in the Syrian town of Qusayr.

Al-Daher accused Nasrallah of "leading an Iranian armed faction on Lebanese territory".

Aligned with Lebanon's Sunnis, the Future Bloc is the largest member of Lebanon's March 14 Alliance and is opposed to Shia Hezbollah, which it has said "has all the characteristics of a terrorist group".

The views of Lebanon's Sunni politicians have been picked up particularly in the Kuwaiti press. In an interview with Kuwait's al-Anbaa newspaper, al-Daher said that Hezbollah and Assad's victory in Qusayr did not mean that the insurgency was finished, and added that "those who are laughing and handing out sweets in Beirut's southern suburbs [a Hezbollah stronghold] will weep tears of bitterness and sorrow for the fall of Assad and his malignant Safavid [system] of Velayat Faqih'"

Meanwhile, the general secretary of March 14 Fares Soueid, told Kuwait's al-Seyassah daily on Friday that Hezbollah had succeeded in tying Lebanon's future to that of Syria, and said the Lebanese Shia group wanted to create a Shiite corridor along Lebanon's eastern borders with Syria, placing the country on a "dangerous path".

France Calls for Release of 2 Journalists

French President, Francois Hollande, has called for the immediate release of two French journalists who went missing in the last 24 hours.

Reporter Didier Francois and photographer Edouard Elias were travelling to the northern city of Aleppo, according to their employer, the radio station Europe 1.

Meanwhile, Austria has announced that it will withdraw its soldiers, who make up one third of the UN peacekeeping force there, from the Golan Heights as fighting has spilled over from the Syrian conflict into the area. Austria said that the threat to its people had "reached an unacceptable level.”

Qusayr: “A city that’s died”

The BBC’s chief international correspondent, Lyse Doucet, reports that the city of Qusayr, devastated by the war and recently taken over by government forces, now has a population of only 500, where just 18 months ago it was 30,000.

She observes that “We still don't know how many were killed in the last three weeks of fighting. But what we have seen is a city that's died.”

A single local family told Doucet that they were now leaving their home, never to return. One soldier, however, insists that "People will return. They will come back to a city that will be even better, and their lives will be even better than before."

Doucet also notes the prevalence of Hezbollah fighters, who supported the Assad regime’s assaults on the rebels based within the city. When asked about his views on Hezbollah’s presence in the conflict, one soldier demanded "Why shouldn't they fight with us? The other side is sending in fighters from Libya, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Afghanistan. Half the world is fighting in Syria."

A First-Hand View from Aleppo

James Harkin of The Nation, visiting the family of slain fighter Ayman Kareem, reports alongside insurgents in Aleppo:

Very little can prepare you for the epic scale of destruction in Salaheddine. In the worst-affected streets, barely a house has been left untouched; a weightless, otherworldly quiet obscures the fact that many poor Aleppans are still living here among the ruins.

When the car can take us no farther, we get out and stumble through the wreckage. Just behind the pockmarked dome of the area’s main mosque, Molham shows me a grassy yard where the rebels bury their dead in shallow graves; the fighting here is so intense that they have no time to bury them properly. As the streets narrow, drapes hang on the upper floors to block the view of snipers. It’s only when we arrive that I realize they’ve taken me to where Ayham was killed last August.

Molham, standing in the exact spot where it happened, points out the remains of a makeshift clinic where rebel-friendly doctors had been working when regime forces stormed the area. As we stand there, another group of rebels is preparing to go into battle: a white van packed with men wearing black Islamist bandannas fires itself up with cries of “Allahu Akbar!” before speeding off toward government lines.


The Local Coordination Committees in Syria claim that 73 people were killed on Thursday, including 18 in Damascus and its suburbs, 16 in Deir Ez Zor Province, and 12 in Homs Province.

The Violations Documentation Center reports that 62,849 people have been killed in the Syrian conflict since March 2011, an increase of 75 from Thursday. Of the deaths, 48,565 were civilians, a rise of 39 from yesterday.

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